Jehovah, Not a Primitive Concept
ACCORDING to one of America’s foremost theologians, Harry Emerson Fosdick, the Bible reveals a gradual development of man’s concept of God. Writing in the New Outlook, May 1953, he had, among other things, the following to say on this subject:
“The primary problem in Christian apologetics is . . . to achieve a concept of God which will require a minimum of argument because its intelligibility, reasonableness, and relevance to human need carry a self-authenticating authority. The problem is not new. It is old, dating from primitive man, from man as soon as he learned to think. Always the question was, in view of what we know now, how shall we think of God?
“The Bible itself is a major illustration. What a contrast between the ideas of God at its primitive beginnings and at its end! From the early battle cry, ‘Yahweh is a man of war: Yahweh is his name,’ to Jesus’ beatitude, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God’—what a deepening of the concept of divine nature! What an expansion in man’s apprehension of God!
“The writers of the Scriptures traveled an ascending road with widening vistas, and because any God of this universe is infinite, that process can never stop. It critically confronts us today.”
Mr. Fosdick would thus have us believe that man of himself gradually ascended from a concept of Yahweh or Jehovah as a God of war to a God who blesses the peacemakers; and that the Bible, far from being a divine revelation to man, is but the record of man’s efforts to acquire an adequate concept of God. (Ex. 15:3, NW; Matt. 5:9) Whatever kind of apologetics that may be, it certainly is not Christian, for Christ Jesus never taught such things. He said, “Your word is truth.”—John 17:17, NW.
A humble and honest examination of the Bible will reveal that Mr. Fosdick’s comments are not in line with what Jehovah’s Word says. It shows that while Jehovah’s requirements of his creatures differ according to his purposes and the time in which they live, his four cardinal attributes are always the same, namely, justice, power, wisdom and love. Do we not read in the very first book of the Bible of Abraham’s appeal to God’s justice? “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” And did not the Founder of Christianity and his apostles emphasize the fact that Jehovah is a just and righteous God?—Gen. 18:25; Luke 18:7; Rom. 9:14.
And did not the angelic messenger to Abraham reveal Jehovah as the Almighty when he asked, “Is anything too hard for Jehovah?” A concept identical with that Christ Jesus gave when he said: “With God all things are possible.” (Gen. 18:14, AS; Matt. 19:26, NW) No change in concept of God as regards his justice and power during a period of two thousand years, is there?
Further, does not the Genesis account of creation testify to Jehovah’s wisdom, and did not Moses repeatedly state that God was the source of wisdom and that he imparted it to his servants? (Genesis, chapters 1 and 2; Ex. 28:3; 36:1, 2) And did not Christ Jesus and his immediate followers testify to the same effect?—Luke 11:49; Rom. 11:33; Jas. 1:5.
And finally, as regards Jehovah’s being a God of love, mercy and peace, here likewise we find no difference between the God of Moses and the God of Christ Jesus. Note how Jehovah revealed himself when Moses asked to see his glory: “Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in loving-kindness and truth; keeping loving-kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”—Ex. 34:6, 7, AS.
But perhaps someone will say, What about the rest of that quotation that reads, “That will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation.” While those words seem to contradict what preceded them, a little reasoning will make it all clear. Is it not true that when a people or nation, such as Israel, rejected Jehovah’s worship and went to pagan religion God permitted them to go into captivity and that the results were felt not only by themselves but also by their descendants even to the third and fourth generations? Is it not simply an inexorable law that by the very nature of things parents by their course of action bring upon their children either good or evil; it being simply a matter of ‘what you sow you will reap’?
Christ Jesus taught exactly the same as Moses in this respect, a fact that modernist clergymen like to overlook. Note his warning to the religious leaders of his day as to what was in store for them: “You are bearing witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Well, then, fill up the measure of your forefathers. Serpents, offspring of vipers, how are you to flee from the judgment of Gehenna? For this reason, here I am sending forth to you prophets and wise men and public instructors. Some of them you will kill and impale, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city; that there may come upon you all the righteous blood spilled on earth from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I say to you, All these things will come upon this generation.” (Matt. 23:31-36, NW) Those words were fulfilled with the complete destruction of Jerusalem A.D. 70. That destruction was just and was in keeping with Jehovah’s being a God of war.
Yes, the Bible is the divine revelation and not merely a record of man’s concepts of his God. From beginning to end it reveals Jehovah as a God of love, wisdom, justice and power. He first shows himself as a God of love, bestowing his blessings upon his creatures. But when these spurn God’s gifts, rebel and turn to wickedness, then he has no alternative but to show himself as a God of war. Do the Hebrew Scriptures overlook Jehovah’s loving, tender and compassionate qualities? “Jehovah appeared of old unto me, saying, Yes, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.” (Jer. 31:3, AS) Do the Christian Greek Scriptures overlook Jehovah’s justice and righteous indignation? “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says Jehovah.” “For our God is also a consuming fire.” (Rom. 12:19; Heb. 12:29, NW) Jehovah is not a primitive concept of God.